Category Archives: Shopping

Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

After being in London for a few weeks, Dublin came as a bit of letdown.  It took me awhile to figure out why, as I should have felt a connection because of my Irish heritage.  Once I left, I felt like I understood why my ancestors did too: The place just seemed depressing.  But it isn’t really.  What it is is the capital of a nation that has no imperial history, and therefore no evidence of grandeur due to unexpected (or ill-gotten, as your opinion may be)  wealth.  Of all the other places we’ve been in Europe this is the first one that can make that claim.  Spain took gold and silver from the new world.  France had it’s forays in North America, Africa and South Pacific.  Britain had it’s sunny Empire.  Germany…well, yeah, you get the picture.  Ireland?  They’re just going about their business at (their exquisitely beautiful) home.

Once back in London, we did a few things that were at the bottom of the list.  We trekked into places that weren’t as easy to get to.  We saw the sorts of things that were afterthoughts.  This included a trip to Lewis Leathers for the red lined motorcycle jacket, a walk across the Abbey Road Studios’ famous zebra, the Sherlock Holmes statue and taking in the local flavor in Notting Hill with some friends I’d made in my short time there.

Abbey Road

Liz y Mig on the Zebra

All of these experiences were great, but the best part was coming “home.”  London in general, and Notting HIll specifically, felt like home from the day I arrived.  And returning from my first trip away really reinforced that feeling.

Back in the USSR

The last line of our National Anthem asks the question: O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?  Does it?

The time away has me wondering what freedom means to me, as if I were a 5th grader writing an essay on the matter.  Now that I’ve had a little time to reflect on the economic and cultural differences, I’m conflicted about which system is better.  I kinda like the Bill of Rights and not paying 70% of my take-home in taxes.  But at the same time it was really nice to drive on roads that didn’t knock parts off of my car, <gasp> smoke a cigarette in a cafe or move on to the next shop because the owner of the one I went to had gone on vacation.  This is the key difference, I think.

We happened to be in Europe during the most popular month for the yearly vacation.  While it was a little frustrating to have to go another block to find a bodega for a bottle of wine, how profound is it that small business people can let their entire staffs leave town for 2-4 weeks?  That’s economic freedom!  It’s been a recurring theme in what I wrote over the course of this trip, but they (Europeans) just seem to have figured out something that we don’t get here in the US.

Random thoughts…

Names: The Catalan language is something unlike we’ve ever heard before. From what we can decipher, it’s a hybrid of Spanish and French, with an awesome lisp on various letters. That said, we decided to take on psuedo-names for the trip. Miguel’s Castelonian name is “Sergio Sebastian de Barcelona,” pronounced “theregio thebathian of Barthelona” and mine is “Vicky Christina de Barcelona,” pronounced “vicky chrithina of Barthelona.” Evidently Vicky Christina Barcelona is actually a movie title that we’ve now added to our Netflix as I’m sure it will provide some post travel entertainment. Yeah, we’re silly, but adds to our entertainment when we hear people pronounce various words in the city.

Architecture: We spent a day touring various Gaudi architectural wonders including the Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló. The Sagrada Familia is a church that started construction in 1882 and still isn’t finished. Currently it’s estimated to be complete in 2030. Definitely some amazing architecture, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit swindled when they charged us 13 Euro to enter a church that isn’t complete. And by not complete, I mean the entire inside of the church is blocked off with raw materials (marble/concrete, etc) on the ground and the exterior has 4 cranes. What I couldn’t understand is that we were one of a few thousand people paying entry, so I’m not sure why this thing isn’t finished yet. Mike said I was full of sour grapes.

The Casa Batlló was far more impressive, and completed. Gaudi was commissioned by Josep Batlló i Casanovas to convert an existing building, and WOW: I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was somewhat mythological while also very aquatic. Miguel took a whole lot of photos of this, which will describe it better, but we definitely enjoyed it.

Cigarettes: One of the best things about Europe is that you can smoke virtually anywhere. I mean, I’ve seen mother’s smoking with their kids sitting next to them (taboo in the U.S.) and pregnant women sitting at a table full of smokers (also taboo in the U.S.) I think I read somewhere that the life expectancy of Europeans far exceeds the U.S., but you’d never guess when you see how many people smoke here. Anyhow, we finally ran out of our last carton of U.S. smokes, so we had to go on a quest to determine which non-U.S. cigarettes were suitable. We started with Habanos (too much like a cigar), tried the French brand, Gauloises (not bad), but found our preferred brand is John Player Special White. Very smooth and comparable to U.S. carton prices.

Nigerian Prada Kings: All around Spain, at least in the cities we’ve been to, you see African men wandering around with big white bundles. These bundles are full of Prada and Vuitton knock offs, and not very good ones at that. Anyhow, the bundles, when on the ground, form a sheet where they can display their various bags for people to buy. Of course this is frowned upon by the Policia here. So to solve for this there is a string tied to each corner, and if you watch these guys they are constantly looking over their shoulders. When they see the Policia coming, in one quick pull of the string, their sheet pulls in all 20-30 bags and they are off and running. They also travel in packs, so when they come running, it’s about 20 guys coming at you at full speed. Pretty entertaining sight to see, I’m just disappointed I didn’t get it on video :)

That’s all for now. We loved our time in Barcelona, but it’s time to head to the French Wine Country :)